(by Yehuda HaKohen)
“You shall not desecrate My holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel; I am HaShem Who sanctifies you, Who took you out of the land of Egypt to be a G-D unto you; I am HaShem.” (VAYIKRA 22:32-33)
The Rambam explains this commandment by teaching that “the entire House of Israel is commanded regarding the great mitzvah of Kiddush HaShem, as (VAYIKRA 22:32) states: ‘I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel.’ Also, they are warned against desecrating (His holy Name), as (the above verse) states: ‘You shall not desecrate My holy Name’.” (Yesodei HaTorah 5:1)
These mitzvot are given to not only each and every Jew to be safeguarded in our private lives but also the Hebrew Nation to be performed as a collective. It is our responsibility to actively sanctify – and guard against desecrating – G-D’s Name through our personal behavior. In both the company of fellow Jews and in the presence of gentiles, we must be relentlessly careful to conduct ourselves with honor, integrity and consideration towards others. We must be conscious of the fact that the Jewish people is the national expression of HaShem in this world and that our conduct is a direct reflection of His Divine Ideal. This awareness should fill us with a sense of tremendous responsibility, making us vigilant to avoid behavior that could potentially cause others to look negatively upon the Hebrew Nation.
While the Torah world today certainly emphasizes this concept on an individual level, the importance of this idea on a national level is regrettably often ignored. In order to fully understand the idea of Kiddush HaShem on a collective scale, we must look to the Books of our Prophets – prophecies meant to educate us on how to function as a healthy nation on our native soil able to manifest the Divine Ideal in our national life.
“So I poured My anger upon them because of the blood that they poured upon the earth – and they defiled it with their idols – so I scattered them among the nations and they were dispersed among the lands. According to their ways and their doings did I judge them; and they came to the nations to which they came, and they desecrated My holy Name when it was said of them, ‘These are HaShem’s people, but they departed His land’; but I pitied My holy Name that the House of Israel desecrated among the nations to which they came.” (YEHEZKEL 36:18-21)
HaShem rebukes Am Yisrael for desecrating His Name among the nations. It is important to note that G-D does not accuse Israel of desecrating His Name through breaking any specific precept. Rather He is condemning Israel for desecrating His Name by the very reality of being scattered amongst the nations. In the previous verse, HaShem clearly states that it was He Who had scattered Israel throughout the world as a consequence of our sins. So why then should He rebuke the Jewish people for the very punishment that He Himself inflicted upon us?
This question reveals a profound truth concerning how HaShem’s Ideal is perceived in our world. While Jews may have understood throughout the many centuries in foreign lands that we had been temporarily banished from our soil as a consequence of our sins, other nations view reality from a different perspective. Gentiles could easily argue that while our G-D had promised to make us a mighty nation and to bring us into our homeland where we would enjoy independence, security and abundance, Jews can be found scattered throughout the world and very often even as victims of brutal oppression and persecution. HaShem therefore decrees that the very exile – which He Himself brought about – is an objective desecration of His Name because it causes mankind to question His.
The word hilul (desecration) stems from the root word halal (emptiness), meaning that a profanation of G-D’s Name appears to empty His Divine Presence from the world, causing people to doubt His very existence. Because Israel is the national expression of HaShem, the nations judge G-D based on how they view His chosen people. When gentiles are ruling over and persecuting Jews, they see this not only as a sign of Jewish weakness but also as the weakness – or non-existence – of Israel’s G-D.
It is known that during the Holocaust in Europe, Nazi guards in the death camps would often taunt their Jewish victims with comments that inferred our G-D could not exist. For the Germans it was a simple equation. If there had existed a G-D of Israel, He would have certainly intervened on His people’s behalf. Therefore, an event like the Holocaust (although each individual Jew who was killed died a death of Kiddush HaShem on a personal level) was a desecration of G-D’s Name on a national level. The mass victimization of the Jewish people brought the world to doubt the very existence of HaShem.
But when Israel returned to sovereignty over our borders and triumphed in a series of victories against impossible odds, G-D’s Name was sanctified and all of humanity was blessed with the opportunity to ascend new heights of spiritual awareness. Israel’s return home and our miraculous military achievements are perhaps the highest verifications of HaShem’s existence and strength. Through performing the greatest sanctification of His Name in modern history, Israel essentially proved the Torah’s validity while simultaneously disproving the man-made religions that had for centuries used Israel’s exile and degradation as proof for the validity of their erroneous faiths. And the redemption continues to unfold in our generation, not because Jews are righteous or deserving of salvation, but simply because history has had enough of G-D’s Name being defiled.
“Therefore say to the House of Israel: ‘Thus says my L-RD HaShem/ELOKIM: Not for your sake do I act, O House of Israel, but for My holy Name that you have desecrated among the nations to which you came. And I will sanctify My great Name that was desecrated among the nations, that you desecrated among them. The nations shall know that I am HaShem – the words of my L-RD HaShem/ELOKIM – when I become sanctified through you in their sight; and I shall take you from the nations and gather you in from the countries, and I shall bring you to your land; and I shall sprinkle pure water upon you, that you be cleansed.” (YEHEZKEL 36:22-25)
Whether on a personal level or on a national level, the mitzvah of Kiddush HaShem is identified as the general commandment to give one’s life in order to sanctify the Name of G-D or to avoid its desecration. Based on the verse “You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live – I am HaShem” (VAYIKRA 18:5), the Sages conclude that Jews are generally meant to live – rather than die – by the Torah. The Talmud therefore instructs us to transgress most precepts for the sake of preserving life. This, however, excludes Divine commandments against murder, idol worship or sexual immorality – severe prohibitions for which we must be ready to give up our lives rather than transgress. In addition to these three dire offenses, we are also required to lay down our lives in a public situation for which the honor of HaShem’s Ideal is at stake (the Rambam explains this concept at great length in the fifth chapter of Yesodei HaTorah). In fact, a profanation of G-D’s Name is the only situation the Torah views as even graver than murder, idol worship or sexual immorality.
In the era of Israel’s national rebirth, it is crucial that we shed light on precepts that apply to the collective Jewish people. Among the other vital teachings relevant for our generation, a proper emphasis must be placed on the national principle of Kiddush HaShem. For Israel to rise up and successfully face the many arduous challenges ahead, Torah leaders must illuminate the full depth of these ideals and inspire the nation towards advancing our national mission of revealing G-D’s Oneness to all of Creation.
With Love of Israel,